WASHINGTON The Obama administration is preparing to subject the information technology backbone of the new state and federal healthcare exchanges to final "dress rehearsal" testing that could continue until just before the online marketplaces are slated to begin enrollment on October 1.
The administration "has already completed the majority of the development of the services required to support open enrollment beginning on October 1," Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, said in written testimony that appeared on the website of a congressional oversight committee on Wednesday.
"CMS has been conducting systems tests since October 2012 and will complete end-to-end testing before open enrollment begins," she said.
Tavenner, whose agency is spearheading implementation of the exchanges within the Department of Health and Human Services, told a different congressional panel on July 17 that a new data hub for the exchanges would complete testing with federal agencies, states and territories by the end of August.
Administration officials emphasized that the data hub deadline has not changed and said Tavenner's latest remarks involve robust testing for the full range of exchange systems, including the data hub and the information technology systems of states, health insurers and federal agencies. The testing will begin in August and continue in September.
"We are on schedule. We're ready and done with most of our testing," said one administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "But testing continues even after it's done. So we will be testing things up until they're ready to run."
The exchanges, a centerpiece of President Barack Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, are expected to extend subsidized private insurance to an estimated 7 million Americans in 2014 who currently lack adequate coverage. The coverage would begin January 1, when the law comes fully into force.
The task of building and successfully testing a complex IT system for the exchanges has long been seen as a challenge that could delay the start of open enrollment. The system encompasses not just the data hub that will connect the exchanges to federal agencies and insurers, but also the Internal Revenue Service system that will help establish whether applicants are eligible for federal subsidies to help them pay insurance premiums.
Tavenner submitted her written remarks ahead of a hearing on Thursday before the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee. She also testified on July 17 before a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee.
(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Dan Grebler)